The 1999 Delaware Quarter
Posted by Jay Turner, NGC Grader and Attributor on 2/1/2006
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Modern coin collectors should acknowledge that the Delaware Quarter is not only a coin. It is also a commemorative, the first issue in a series, and something that sparked many to pursue coin collecting and numismatics.
The Delaware Quarter was the first issue in the state quarter series, a program signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1998. The series commemorates each State in the Union with 50 different coin designs issued at a rate of five new quarters per year. The program's goals, stated broadly, are to educate the public through coinage by creating designs showing the history, geography, people and other proud state heritages. On the Mint's Web site, teachers can download lesson plans related to the quarters, which strive to develop a better understanding of map skills, American history, national identity, internet research tools and counting skills.
There is an obvious corollary to the core educational and commemorative function of these coins: profit. As the scale of this program was unprecedented by the U.S. Mint, so were the Mint's related product offerings. These included State Quarter Proof Sets, Silver State Quarter Proof Sets, First Day Covers, Coin and Die sets, Bags, Rolls, Coin and Stamp Sets, and even State Quarter Spoons. These new offerings meant higher profits for the Mint. Revenues for Proof Set sales increased by $33.4 million and Mint Set sales increased by $13.2 million. Collecting and hoarding of circulation coins also contributes marginally to the value of these coins in the eyes of U.S. lawmakers, as the resultant savings rate increases by non-nominal amounts.
Collectors responded immediately to these new offerings. Delaware was the first state to join the Union, and since the State quarter program goes in order of joining the union, Delaware was first quarter minted and issued. In January of 1999 the first quarters trickled out of the United States mint and not only collectors but also the general public were off to obtain the coins. Rolls sky rocketed in price and people could sell pocket change they collected for more then face value. Dealers were offering to pay 50 cents a circulated coin by mid-year for Delaware quarters, a coin with a production of 373,400,000 from Philadelphia, and 401,424,000 from Denver. Dealers and collectors were setting up systems of trading coins across the country to get the desired mint for their collections and resale. It was an amazing moment in numismatic history.
The proof sets were also a hot item, and the silver proof sets also were a sell out, despite its high production. Come Christmas people were coming in to my local coin shop with surprising frequency looking to buy a proof set, many had never looked at coins before, but wanted one for a Christmas gift or for themselves.
No matter how popular the coin was people didn't seem to recognize its true purpose, to educate and commemorate. One common misconception is that "Paul Revere" is shown on horseback on the Delaware Quarter. Here's the real scoop . . . the Delaware Quarter features Caesar Rodney, an American Revolution hero. Born in 1728, he inherited a large estate from his father, who emigrated from England to Delaware Colony. He made his way into politics and worked for the Delaware legislature. In 1769 he was elected speaker of the House of Representatives and the Chairman of the Committee of Correspondence with the other colonies. As tensions over colonial independence brewed, he became ill from cancer. Still, he continued to communicate with people of influence in all parts of the country, and relayed information to his constituents.
When the question of independence came before congress, Caesar Rodney was absent on tour in the southern part of Delaware. The delegates for Delaware were divided on the question of independence and a dispatch was sent to Caesar Rodney. With great pains he road horse back from south Delaware to Philadelphia to cast his vote for independence. He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and, without his heroic ride and influence, the move towards independence would have been much harder.
Since no known portrait of Caesar Rodney exists, the coin is only a depiction of what he may have looked like when he made his heroic ride of 80 miles from Delaware to Philadelphia in ill health during the heat of the summer.
While the Delaware quarter may be a modern coin, its significance in sparking great collecting interests, a new series, and honoring an American hero, is all part of its place in numismatics,—making it something truly worth collecting.